Explore the ways in which de Maupassant presents Mathilde Loisel as a character who develops and matures during the course of the narrative.
The writer has presented the development and maturity of Mathilde, the protagonist of the story throughout the course of the narrative effectively. De Maupassant has done so by firstly providing detailed information illustrating the fussiness of the extremely delicate Mathilde, then contrasting her situation with a series of events later to emphasize the change she undergoes later in the story and the extent to which she matures and ‘grown up’ from a ‘child.’Order now
In the beginning, Mathilde is described as a ‘charming young creature’ who is married to a ‘little’ clerk, suggesting at the time beauty is the most important value of women and the value of a clerk is just too ‘small’ in comparison. As foreshadowed by the difference in status, in the second paragraph Mathilde is described to dress ‘plainly’ and ‘was unhappy’ due to the clerk she has married, ‘as if she had really fallen from a higher station.’ The introduction of Mathilde as a self-obsessed woman who sees herself as a high ranked aristocrat gives us the impression of a spoilt girl who demands everything to be perfect whereas everything is limited by her low status husband, foretelling the events that happen later.
Indeed, as if reaffirming the description of Mathilde from the first two paragraphs, the third paragraph restates and reassures readers Mathilde as a spoilt, bewildered girlish lady who ‘felt herself born to enjoy all delicacies and all luxuries’ and is ‘distressed at the poverty of her dwelling’ Furthermore, de Maupassant builds a stronger impression in our minds by describing such things (e.g. shabby chairs, ugliness of the curtains) as tortures to her. Ironically, de Maupassant magnifies the significance of little things that bother her while he describes Mathilde to possess ‘great beauty which another woman of her rank would never have dreamed for’; we see an irony here as Mathilde is “one of those pretty and charming’ girls yet she is ‘unhappy’ and unsatisfied with her life. This shows us that Mathilde concerns herself with material things and living conditions rather than appreciating or knowing to treasure her own natural beauty.
Described to be the type of woman who only demands more and and doesn’t treasure what she has in front of her, Mathilde always imagines herself of the prettiest woman who deserves the best among all, and ‘would have liked so much to please, to be envied, to be charming, to be sought after.’ An irony emerges when we are told that she has a rich friend whom ‘she did not like to go to see any more because she felt so sad’, but why wouldn’t Mathilde want to see rich people when she wants to be rich herself? Again, it is implied that Mathilde has a great flaw in her character initially. Another similar irony is shown when Mathilde learns that she is invited to a ball of rich people are expected to attend. Instead of beging delighted and glad, she ‘threw the invitation on the table crossly’ and complains about the ordinary outfit she has. Mathilde even made attempts to cry in order to achieve her objectives, as ‘by a violent effort she conquered her grief’. Moreover, unbelievably her greed extends to even making calculations of what sum she could ask most out of her poor husband after her husband has agreed to her greedy request of buying a new gown.
Up to this stage, Mathilde has not changed; we learn that Mathilde is a spoilt, greedy and selfish child-like woman who is never satisfied with what she has even when she has a beautiful appearance. She doesn’t cherish her natural beauty, but desires the best jewelry of all, something which she cannot afford. Yet it is frivolous compared to her beauty. Throughout the story de Maupassant uses triplets to emphasize ideas that he conveys. For instance, in the beginning ‘ had no dowry, no expectation of being known, etc.’ We learn that Mathilde is living as a low class woman, who does not get any privileges when married to the poor clerk. Later on, Mathilde argues with her husband that she is annoyed ‘not to have a single piece of jewelry, not a single ornament, nothing to put on.’ Clearly, de Maupassant wishes to convey the idea that Mathilde thinks she thinks she is being treated poorly. Yet everything goes fine with Mathilde until the ball night.
Hearing a seemingly wonderful suggestion from her husband, Mathilde ‘uttered a cry of joy’ when she realizes that she can borrow expensive jewelries for free from her friend Madame Forestier. Again, this highlights her greed as she desires things for free. In addition, even when she is shown a large box of jewelries, she keeps asking for more until she finds a superb diamond necklace. Her ‘hands trembled’ and is ‘lost in ecstasy’, as if in love herself with the necklace. This goes to show Mathilde’s greed for the physical luxuries and her obsession with really the necklace but not her own beauty without the diamond necklace. In fact, the ‘black satin box’ that contains the necklace can be said to have associations with the Pandora’s Box which is said to bring bad luck, foreshadowing the later events.
Indeed, Mathilde is cursed with all the bad luck like, though not yet displayed at the ball coming after, as she ‘was a great success’. She ‘was prettier than any other woman present, elegant, graceful, smiling and wild with joy.’ There is an irony though, the diamond necklace itself was never mentioned, an indication of its insignificance. Once again, de Maupassant describes Mathilde to be intoxicated by pleasure, ‘in a sort of cloud of happiness’, as if she feels drugged, although in reality everything is just an fantasy image only. This suggests her temporary insanity, which results in her late departure from the ball, about four hours later than she was supposed to. When leaving the ball, her caring husband keeps on reminding her to put on her coat so as not to catch a cold, and offers kindness despite the fact that he ‘had been sleeping since midnight in a little deserted anteroom.’ Nevertheless, she rejects him once again. Even when the retribution or in a sense the punishment takes place as Mathilde realizes she lost the necklace, her husband still kindly offers to help, He tells Mathilde that he’ shall go back on foot, over the whole route, to see whether I can find it.’ And as we would expect, ‘he goes out. Mathilde sits waiting on a chair in her ball dress.’ She still remains much the same even at a critical moment, thus we can conclude that the writer has made a contrast between Mathilde’s husband who is always active whereas she is just passive and lazy, demonstrated several times throughout the earlier passages. We can assume this one of Mathilde’s biggest flaws and something is ought to happen about it.
Once she had lost the necklace Mathilde’s life has changed significantly. Moreover her poor, innocent husband is implicated both physically and emotionally as well, as they assumed the necklace Mathilde lost to worth forty thousand francs. Like a turning point of the whole story, the poor couple had to labour together for ten years while her husband also contributes ‘eighteen thousand francs which his father had left him’ just for the mistake his wife made. If we go back to the time when Mathilde asked for money for a gown, the amount of money they have to pay in result of her mistake is exactly a hundred times the amount she asked for the gown, showing a dramatic connection made by the author to emphasize the price she has to pay for her own flaw. Since then, the poor couple has to work ten years of harsh labour to earn enough to pay back the borrowed money, while they ‘dismissed their servant; …changed their lodgings; …and rented a garret under the roof’.
For Mathilde in particular, the ten years of labor is clearly a torture to her. In the end, undoubtedly, she matures and changes in terms of her personality. She is no longer passive, no longer greedy, no longer insatiable. During the ten years of ‘punishment’, Mathilde not only ‘went to the fruiterer, the grocer, the butcher,’ ‘bargaining, defending her miserable money,’ in addition, she ‘came to know what heavy housework meant and (did) odious cares of the kitchen. she washed the dishes, using her dainty fingers and rosy nails on greasy pots and pans’ All this housework and labour which a high ranked, noble woman would never do, she does them all. In a sense she adopts her real identity; she dressed like a woman of the people. In all honesty, she deserves all these punishments, as she eventually learns her lesson.
In fact, we can say that she is punished twice, as she is told after the ten years of torture that all of it was unnecessary, with the diamond necklace as barely an imitation. Nonetheless, Mathilde has changed as she no longer envies her friend Madame Forestier who is ‘still young, still beautiful, still charming’ (the use of triplet here) when she bumps into her ‘after the labors of the week’. She was reluctant to see Madame Forestier ten years ago but now she is no longer afraid to. Clearly, Mathilde develops and matures over the ten year span. De Maupassant does not emphasize the details of labour during the ten years but focuses on the outcomes, and changes of Mathilde. She matured and ‘looked old’, becoming ‘the woman of impoverished households with frowsy hair, skirts askew and red hands.’ The use of dialog between Madame Forestier and Mathilde, ‘Oh, my poor Mathilde! How you are changed!’ and the contrast with her charming appearance furthermore highlight the unpleasant punishments Mathilde have undergone.
In conclusion, the author constructs the narrative with good organization. De Maupassant lists series of events to contrast the differences between Mathilde before the ‘punishment’ and after. In the beginning he builds up and emphasizes the extremely flawed character of Mathilde, then following up with a turning point where it separates the whole story into two with Mathilde being at two extremes. Thus it is clearly shown that Mathilde develops much in maturity, not a spoilt child anymore as there is a strong contrast between her at the beginning and at the end. It can be considered the main idea de Maupassant conveys throughout the narrative.